Laurie Toby Edison

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Sarah Palin: Stick to the Real Issues

Laurie and Debbie say:

Sarah Palin is a terrible choice for vice president. To pick just a few reasons: 1) she’s vehemently anti-choice; 2) it seems likely that she pulled strings to get her sister-in-law’s ex-fiancee fired (and at least one other public figure got fired along the way); and 3) she reportedly believes in banning books from libraries.

These are good reasons to oppose Palin. We are, however, disturbed by the media focus on her family life, her children, and her parenting, just as (even though neither of us were Hillary Clinton supporters), we hated to see the way her political enemies and the media kept creating criticisms based on her being a woman.

People are not consistent and people’s private lives are their own. It is virtually impossible to sort out the mother/daughter interactions of the people you know best, to be sure (for example) which actions reflect parental guidance and which reflect adolescent defiance.

And if you believe that a woman’s body is really her own, then you have to believe that having children at 17, or raising a child that might have been borne by your daughter (which it seems very clear that Palin did not do, but many other women have) is a woman’s private choice. If you believe that Bill Clinton’s behavior with Monica was either not an issue or “only an issue because he lied about it,” if you believe that Larry Craig had every right to be doing whatever he did in that men’s room in Minneapolis, then pointing fingers at Sarah Palin for her reproductive history and that of her daughters is hard to justify.

Both of us despise “abstinence only” sex education. However, we’ve known young women to get pregnant after every kind of sex education and parental intervention under the sun. Debbie can name you a case where the parents left condoms out for their three daughters with a “we’ll shake the box, refill it if it’s empty, and otherwise never look” deal and two of the three girls were pregnant out of wedlock before they were 18.

The same goes for how big a family “should” be before a mother “has” to stay home (or how able the children have to be). It even goes for “exposing your poor children to public scrutiny.” Hell, Chelsea Clinton was exposed to years of completely inappropriate fat jokes and other nastinesses, and is still a John McCain cheap-shot target, and even at the worst times of Bill Clinton’s presidency, there was no groundswell of “he’s a bad father because of what he’s doing to Chelsea.” If Barack Obama had an unmarried pregnant daughter, his political enemies and the media would be having a vicious field day that makes any controversy over Sarah Palin look like a polite disagreement at a formal wedding.

The litmus test is actually simple: can you imagine anyone criticizing a man because he accepted the vice-presidential nomination even though he has a child with Down syndrome? No? Then you know what that criticism is worth.

Men get criticized for who they have sex with, and when, and where, and whether or not they tell the truth about it. Women get criticized for how they deal with the results of sex. We say: attack Sarah Palin, and Larry Craig, and Dennis Vitter for their positions, not their behavior. Given who these people are in their public life, it shouldn’t even slow us down much.

9 Responses to “Sarah Palin: Stick to the Real Issues”

  1. janet lafler Says:

    Sarah Palin also endorses the teaching of creationism in schools (in the quote I saw, she didn’t even bother to use the euphemism “intelligent design.”

    I agree, way too much of this is being made of her daughter’s pregnancy. But here’s what bugs me: for decades, the religious right have been claiming that teen pregnancy is the result of bad morals and bad parenting — except when it’s one of their own. In defense of Palin and her daughter, they say “this could happen in any family,” and I agree, it could. But are they going to apply that understanding to a 17-year-old Latina immigrant, or a 17-year-old inner-city girl whose mother was on AFDC? Not bloody likely.

  2. Paul Says:

    You’re right, of course. Media circus aside, many thinking people won’t hold Palin’s choice not to abort her Down’s child against her, only her desire to deprive others of that same right to choose. Nor will thinking liberals hold against her the fact that her teenaged daughter is pregnant, although I’m hoping that a lot of staunch conservatives will do exactly that.

    I don’t think Palin was a terrible choice for VP but rather a brilliant one — for Obama. Rather than making the perfect choice to capture those Clinton supporters who would rather vote for even a conservative white woman than for a black man, McCain picked someone so inexperienced and so far to the right that I’m hopeful that few will cross that particular road. It wasn’t just Clinton’s gender that nearly got her the nomination, it was her experience and policies. Had McCain chosen someone with federal or international experience and who stood closer to center he might have had a greater chance of winning a fair election.

    All we have to worry about now is the integrity of the ballot count.

  3. D Says:

    To be fair, Palin’s running on a platform that all but tells women they should be staying home with the kids. I seems sort of hypocritical of her to say that in this situation. That said, I’d rather focus on her being a Dominionist and an Alaskan Secessionist than anything else.

    I mean, really. Do you want someone whose major motivation is to help their state secede from the Union helping run the country?

  4. Lisa Hirsch Says:

    I agree that the media should stick to the zillion policy reasons Palin should not be VP, ever, and to what the lack of vetting says about McCain and his decision-making abilities. It’s good to see right-wingers saying that of course she can be VP and her family size and situation should not influence that. Such words can be quoted in many situations to counter the usual right-wing stance about women’s place, their damning of premarital sex, and so on.

    But I cannot help thinking about how the Republican attack machine would treat this if the pregnant teen were the child of an African American candidate. I do not think they would show her the courtesy they quite rightly want for Bristol Palin.

  5. men in full Says:

    I’m not pleased with Democratic criticism about Palin’s “bad mothering.” It’s one thing to point out the contradiction between stated principles and actual practice, such as when ultra-conservative women going to law school and running national lobbying campaigns (Phyllis Schlafly), or run for office (Palin) instead of staying at home and practicing Kinder, Kuche, Kirche. It’s another to actually “seriously” suggest that there is something “wrong” with a woman who wants to serve as governor *and* raise a large family. (“She’s endangering her baby! O NOEZ!”)

    As far as her daughter goes, it seems to me that if we disqualified political candidates on the basis of “bad parenting,” then we’d get rid of 90% of them. Or is it just *women* who are held to the standard of “good parenting,” but not men? Anyway, ultra-conservatives who preach no sex before marriage have kids who get pregnant. It happens.

    I also like the point you made about how “her body, her choice” applies to keeping a baby as well (and in Palin’s daughter’s case, eventual marriage to the father.) It’s fun to poke the pregnant Republican daughter, but it’s not helpful in the long run, because there already is this idea “out there” that “choice” for women (I mean lifestyle choices in general, not just abortion) only applies to certain kinds of choices. So IMO attacking Palin for favoring abstinence-only sex ed is appropriate; calling her a “bad parent” because she has a pregnant daughter is not.

  6. Risha Says:

    Well said! We can hate her politics without hating her as a woman who has made choices with her life.

    (I’m just dreading the inevitable few noisy people who will think that it’s anti-feminist not to vote for her.)

  7. Lizzie Says:

    “can you imagine anyone criticizing a man because he accepted the vice-presidential nomination even though he has a child with Down syndrome?”

    I agree with cakmpls’ take on this, over on LiveJournal: that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to criticize her, but maybe it’s wrong not to criticize him. Little kids, especially with Down syndrome, need a parent caring for them.

    http://cakmpls.livejournal.com/499543.html

  8. Lizzy L Says:

    I have seen a fair amount of stupid criticism from the left in the blogosphere, but the “official” Democratic criticism has been extremely muted and has ASAIK stayed away from Palin’s family, as Obama very strongly asked them to do. He made an very unambiguous statement: we don’t do it, and if anyone from campaign does, I’ll fire them.

    There’s plenty of appropriate stuff to go after her on: earmarks, for example. When she was mayor of Wasilla she brought 27 million dollars over 2 1/2 years to a town of (then) under 6000 people, and oh, yeah, left them saddled with a 20 million dollar debt.

    But this campaign is not about Palin, it’s about McCain and the Republican policies of the last 8 years, and particularly, the economy. The Democrats need to go after the issues, the war, the terrible divide between rich and middle class, hammering on it — Palin is a distraction, and the more the campaign focuses on her, the more the Dems play into McCain’s strategy. But Obama knows this, and he’s not doing it. He’s going after McCain and the Republicans, ignoring Palin, as he should.

  9. janet Says:

    Here’s an opinion piece that make a similar point:

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/09/03/rosen.palin/?iref=mpstoryview

    I also saw a similar argument on Slate’s “XX factor,” but I make a practice of not linking to Slate as long as they continue to publish William Saletan.

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